As an autism consultant and member of a clinical team, I have become familiar with all types of family situations. Sometimes I meet a family at a school while we build a program for their child with ASD. Sometimes I meet a family at a clinic as we explain the results of the diagnostic evaluation for their child - which all too often includes the diagnosis of autism, Asperger's or PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified). I also meet families in the course of goal-planning meetings, IEP reviews, and the discussion of long-term plans for the child with ASD. I even meet them at conferences, when parents tell me what they are going through and ask for advice and resources. But wherever I meet them, I am always amazed and humbled by the strength and resilience of the parents or caregivers. I listen to their stories and wonder if I would be able to handle their problems as well as they do. Over the years, I have learned much from parents of children with ASD.
In this episode of Parenthood, we see the stress caused when a family member struggles with a serious disease - in this case, breast cancer. Far too many women and their families face this same horror, but the Braverman family also has Max and his Asperger's syndrome. Parents of children with ASD work so hard and try everything they can to lessen the effects of this disorder, sometimes to the point of putting their own health at risk.
All parents put their children first. But in this episode, Kristina proves it.
Kristina should have listened to Adam. She needs special care now, and Max's sleepover should take second place. It is more important that Kristina gets rest and nurture herself as she fights this terrible disease. But she is typical of the moms and dads of children with ASD. They stretch their resources to the limit; they exhaust themselves doing every possible activity, event or therapy that might ensure their child with ASD will have friends, will be accepted by others, and will be able to solve the myriad problems that come with this disorder. I've seen families on the brink of destruction, parents separating, parents divorcing because of the daily struggles that come with a child with ASD. This disorder stretches families to the limit. Now, the Bravermans face not only the challenges of Max's Asperger's and his lack of appreciation of Kristina's condition, but they also face the fight for her life against this cancer.
Priorities must be set.
Max needs friends, and it is very encouraging that he has already made a close friend who will come to a sleepover. Many children with ASD will never get this opportunity, so I can understand why Kristina has agreed to host Micah. But Max also needs to understand that - contrary to his understanding - the world does not revolve around him. Other events can take precedence over his desires, and cancer is definitely one of those events. He needs to know that he is not always going to be the center of the universe. It is far better for him to learn at this age to be empathetic towards others and to give up something he likes for the enrichment or assistance of someone else. This is a tough lesson - and not just for children with ASD. We know that those who have ASD may have the exact definition of the term "empathy" down pat, but applying it to a real world situation is hard. As scary as cancer is, Max has an opportunity to learn what this word really means and how to apply this definition. The earlier he learns it, the better. Kristina needs help and understanding, and it will mean so much to her to gain it from Max.
Written by Sheila Wagner, M.Ed.